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Are 3D Home Printers The Next Big Thing?

Updated on September 10, 2014
3-D Printed Shoes from The Cube
3-D Printed Shoes from The Cube

Just Imagine this. Your children have a school project coming up and they want to build a cool diorama of the famous Civil War battle complete with scale model soldiers, cannons and horses. Or perhaps they want to create a diorama of the Cretaceous period for the upcoming Science Fair, complete with scale model dinosaurs and swamp plants. Now imagine your children using a simple home printer to create these models in perfect detail.

Does that sound far fetched?

In 2007 Objet, one of the leaders in 3D printing technologies, manufactured a diorama of a battle scene prior to the launch of the video game Halo 3. Objet constructed dozens of character models of aliens and humans engaging in a full-scale battle. There were tanks and space ships, futuristic assault vehicles and ogre-like aliens in this scale model battle scene all created with a 3D printer. It was video-recorded, and used as a commercial for the launch of the Halo game.

So think again....because we are about to enter a new world. A world where everything is information - where knowledge converts into actual things – where the internet crosses the chasm from the virtual into the physical. Get ready to enter the world of 3D printing!

How It Works - 3D Printing

How Does A 3D Printer Work?

A 3D printer is a machine that can create physical objects from computer files. Also referred to as 'additive manufacturing' or 'rapid prototyping,' a 3D home printer effectively turns a digital file into a physical object, either by feeding the printer a special design or by scanning an object with a 3D scanner.

A 3D home printer reads digital data from computer-aided design (CAD) programs, 3D graphics and animation software, and scanners to create sturdy physical models.

A three dimensional object is created by laying down successive layers of material a little at a time. Think how a stalagmite or stalactite forms in a cave over thousands of years. The slow dripping water creates layers and layers of mineral deposits which over time creates a spectacular 3 dimensional form.

3-D printing works a little the same way, although much faster, and it follows a pre-determined pattern set by the computer. The 3D home printer melts plastic (similar to that used in Lego) and then squirts it out of a movable nozzle in a controlled manner. The nozzle goes back and forth, depositing just one very thin layer of plastic at a time, on a platform. A 3-D printer can even create movable parts and different coloured parts, which means an endless amount of design possibilities.

3D printed flowers
3D printed flowers

Are 3D printers new?

While you might not have heard about them, 3D printers have been around for awhile and there has been a steady increase in sales since 2003. While the technology has been used extensively in the fields of dentistry, medical, automotive and aviation – it is about to enter the home for the first time. If you're still not sure – go to Youtube and search the term 3D printers.

3D printing technology was previously used to create prototypes. It has been used in industries you might not have thought of, such as jewellery, footwear, architecture, engineering and construction, automotive and aerospace. Dentists use 3D printers to create entire new bones and the technology is being embraced by the medical industry to create the next generation of implants, surgical components, hearing aids, artificial bones, and prostheses.

In the early days designers used the technology to make prototypes quickly and cheaply before moving to a full scale factory production to produce the real thing. As the technology improved, 3D printers were able to expand the range of materials they work with. These materials include production-grade plastics, ceramics and metals.Today more than 20% of the output of 3D printers is now final products rather than prototypes

Are They Expensive?

Although the process of 3D printing has been around since the early 1990s, nearly as long as ink-jet printers, it has had a relatively low profile until recently. This was partly due to the high entry-level price (five or six-figure price tags) and the focus on engineering and prototype creation which has kept it out of the mainstream.

Currently, there are professionals and companies using various models of 3D printers that range in price from $5,000 to over $20,000 and, until recently, 3D printers have been largely out of reach of most users. However, with the introduction of personal 3D Printers, priced between $1000 to $3000 and weighing under 10Kgs, 3D printing is now accessible to everyone.

Ok so you may think, "that's expensive" but remember that the first HP inkjet printer retailed for $1000 in 1988!

The "Cube" 3D home printer was released in January 2012 and currently retails for $1299.00. It comes with 25 designs for 3D creations from Freedom Of Creation's Designers.

Cubify 3D Printing

What Can I Make With a 3-D Printer?

Although 3D printing methods permit the printing of dozens of different types of materials, ranging from metals to ceramics, 3D printing at home rarely uses anything but plastics. Qualities such as pliability and a low melting point make plastic a great 3D printing material.

So what can you make with a 3D printer. After searching the internet I found a range of ideas:

  • Toys – cars, boats, robots

  • Scale models

  • Reconstructed fossils and dinosaur bones

  • Medical models

  • Cell Phone cover

  • Jewellery

  • Customised party favours

  • Wedding Cake toppers with an exact likeness of the bride and groom

  • Replace a broken part eg. kitchen stove knob

  • Custom skull buttons for your Halloween costume

  • Custom chess pieces

  • Fridge magnets

  • Decorations eg. flowers

At this time the technology required for non-plastic printing remains out of reach for the average consumer but various online services have popped up that will print your 3D design for you in a range of materials. For example, provides 3D printing of models in steel, sandstone, glass and even silver. After producing the printed 3D object, Shapeways will mail it out to you.

Get Your Own 3D Bobble Head

The guys at make custom designed Bobble Heads using 3d printing technology to create an exact likeness of the person from a photograph. The result is very life-like when compared to the traditional method of hand painting bobble heads. The cost of a custom made bobble head starts at around $80 and they have a range of bodies to choose from for adults, boys and girls, motorbike fans and they even create realistic wedding cake toppers.

Watch their video to see examples of their 3D printed Bobble Heads.


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    • profile image

      midnightpiper 3 years ago

      Love this hub, Angie. I suspect that any home with a printer right now will have a 3d printer in 10-15 years time.

      The thought of being able to make new spares and accessories for gadgets, appliances, plumbing, toys etc is just terrific. Really love this topic!

    • Angie Woods profile image

      Angie Woods 5 years ago from Australia

      My children are also very excited about this one and are really wanting to buy one! That is how I started the research.

    • mperrottet profile image

      Margaret Perrottet 5 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      Really good hub. I'm very excited about the possibility of 3D printing. I really think it's going to cause the next big technological revolution. Not too many people are really aware of the potential behind this. Voted Up, interesting and useful.